THE SURPRISE IS OBVIOUS. On stage, in front of a Breton audience, Kate Tempest is beaming. “You lot are the biggest crowd we’ve ever played in front of,” she announces before going on to say of her lyrics: “I wish I could do it all in French, je suis desolé.”
“The young Brit has mastered the international language of performance: bouncing like Tigger and loping side to side.”
For Tempest, breaking barriers seems the stuff of the day to day. The Brit school graduate began rapping at 16, has won a Ted Hughes prize for poetry and has written for theatre. But that is all in Britain and in English. Today the challenge is Hall 3 of The Parc Expo, a group of grim metal hangers a 20-minute bus ride from Rennes’ city centre. But minutes ago she hit the ground running, sprinting onto the stage, spitting lines from Marshall Law, kickoff cut from her Mercury-nominated breakthrough album Everybody Down: “Everywhere is monsters, tits out, wet-mouthed, heads back.”
Kate Tempest is south-east London through and through and Everybody Down is an all-English hip-hop narrative account of the lives of ordinary people: their fears, frustrations and world-weariness. The themes might be universal, but delivering her lyrics with machine-gun force makes keeping up a challenge, even for Brits. Yet here she is, almost instantly anointed a pop star in France at the Gallic world’s prime showcase of the up-and-coming.
France has a long-standing and deep-rooted fascination with rap, most of it home grown. But that’s mainly in the south. Rennes is the capital of Brittany and therefore at the northern end of the nation of MC Solaar (in fact, after Tempest leaves the stage, it starts snowing. Her name has forecast the metéo). Still, the young Brit has mastered the international language of performance: bouncing like Tigger and loping side to side, as her equally high-energy foil, MC Anth Clarke, takes care of the more sophisticated shapes.
It’s pretty clear Tempest has the skills, the force of personality, some compelling compositions and good humour exuded at gale force. Can this rapping rosbif establish a beach-head across La Manche? On this evidence, she already has.
For more on the poet head to www.katetempest.co.uk